Alanna Shaikh

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Alanna Shaikh’s entertaining observations on UNCTAD | 

What the heck is UNCTAD?

No, it is not some kind of festering boil in a section of the body you would prefer not be discussed. It’s actually another one of those UN agencies hardly anyone pays attention to, its full name the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.

Here’s the organization’s description of itself, which is perhaps even less informative than its acronym.

Never mind all that. Just think of UNCTAD as an international meeting where you get to hear what the rest of the world really thinks of how the rich world has screwed up the global economy.

Alanna Shaikh

And then just read Alanna Shaikh’s daily musings from UNCTAD in Doha, Qatar, on her great blog Blood and Milk (listed in reverse chronological order). Alanna is a great writer, an aid/development expert and doesn’t mince words. Often hilarious. Even if you don’t care much about UNCTAD, her observations give you an idea of what it’s like to sit in on these development discussions.

Some excerpts:

Day Two: “Day two began with the Inter-Agency Cluster on Trade and Productive Capacity.  This is an inter-agency meeting that only takes place at UNCTAD. Like so many inter-agency meetings, it consisted almost entirely of agency representatives reading prewritten statements and ignoring each other.”

You break it, you buy it: “UNCTAD delegates are calling for more government intervention into the economy, more taxation on investments, and more FDI, all at the same time. They want an explanation for what went wrong from the same hapless souls who steered us wrong in the first place. Do we really think suddenly everyone is smarter now?”

Day Four: “The first half of the high-level event on women in development depressed me. Heavy on platitudes and generalities, light on any real ideas. I also heard a lot of boring old tropes recycled – women don’t want to work outside the home, changing policy doesn’t help when culture is the problem.”

The conference goes until April 26 so Alanna’s got a few days left to go.

Oh, and you might also want to read her new TEDbook on global health, What’s Killing Us. Here’s a review by Tom Murphy.

Wordy word AIDS Day | 

Flickr, Pink Sherbet Photography

No, that’s not a typo.

I’ve decided to mark this 30th anniversary of the recognized beginning of the pandemic as Wordy AIDS Day rather than use its official name, World AIDS Day, because most of what the international community is doing is saying they want to continue the fight against AIDS even as they retreat.

As Sarah Boseley of The Guardian writes, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria is threatening to ‘collapse’ thanks to governments reneging on their promised donations. The bottom line here is that there is insufficient funding to meet the existing challenge while politicians like Sec. of State Hillary Clinton proclaim we are on the verge of an “AIDS-free generation.” Says Boseley:

If this were not so deadly serious it would be absurd. As Clinton declares the end of AIDS is nigh with one massive last push, the donor governments, mostly in Europe, sit on their wallets. HIV/AIDS has gone out of favour.

It needs to be said that there has been progress, with a remarkable scale-up in getting people on treatment (about 40 percent of those who need the drugs in Africa) and 20-25 percent reductions in mortality.

Recent scientific studies have shown that getting people on anti-HIV drugs prevents transmission of the virus so it is possible, in theory anyway, to halt the pandemic by getting everyone infected on treatment.

Yet even as we may be at a beneficial ‘tipping point’ in the fight against AIDS, the world community’s commitment to the fight is flagging. Funding for the global fight against HIV/AIDS dropped by 10 percent last year. IRIN called it a Deadly Funding Crisis.

Two old-time warriors in the fight ask, on CNN, if what we should be celebrating is Another 30 Years of AIDS?

One of the presumed bright spots in this gloomy landscape was celebrated today with President Barack Obama’s announcement that the U.S. plans to “win this fight’ and has increased its global commitment to get anti-HIV drugs to two million more people by 2013.

Obama’s announcement was webcast by the ONE Campaign with commentary from a slew of other bigwigs like Bono, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

The Obama Administration’s new commitment to the global fight will be good news if it actually happens. Little noticed was the fine print that said this would be accomplished not by donating more money but by “increasing efficiency.” Only the domestic HIV/AIDS needs got actual new money, $50 million.

Here are some other worthy links for this day, Wordy AIDS Day:

Alanna Shaikh at UN Dispatch: The End of the Beginning of the End of AIDS?

ONE’s Erin Hohlfelder: Act V, The End of AIDS

George W Bush in Wall Street Journal: No Retreat in the Fight Against AIDS

NPR: What a lack of funding could mean for Africa

The Independent: Victory is in sight but cuts in funding could spoil it all

Simon Bland of Global Fund: Yes, we’re alive but progress in peril

Is the Gates Foundation a “benevolent dictator” of global health? | 

Tom Paulson

That’s the provocative question addressed by two knowledgeable aid experts, Laura Freschi and Alanna Shaikh, in this article for Alliance magazine, a publication focused on philanthropy and social investing.

They start out by emphasizing the clearly benevolent side to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation:

Today, the foundation’s annual spending on global public health – about $1.8 billion – is larger than the WHO’s yearly budget. Donors have started thinking about global health as a broad and important discipline once again. With the launch of Gates’ Grand Challenges Initiative in 2003, some of the world’s best scientific minds turned their efforts to solving the problems of the world’s poorest.

Gates has devoted hundreds of millions of dollars to proven, effective technologies – vaccines and medicines – delivered through partners like GAVI (Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization), the Measles Initiative, and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. According to the Gates Foundation, GAVI alone has vaccinated more than 300 million children.

But then Freschi and Shaikh begin to take a harder look, noting the Gates Foundation’s emphasis on technological solutions: Continue reading

USAID infographic on using “household items” to fight global poverty | 

The U.S. Agency for International Development, USAID, run by former Gates Foundation program manager Rajiv Shah, is trying to upgrade its approach to fighting global poverty by encouraging innovation.

In case you haven’t noticed, we are now in the Geek phase of global health and development.

In a new infographic, USAID attempts to provide more specific examples to illustrate some good examples of what it means by celebrating innovation as a means to improving people’s lives in poor countries. Continue reading

Three reasons why CIA faked vaccines may cause contagion of damage | 

Flickr, johanoomen

New Action Thriller: From UNICEF with Love?

Now that the CIA has acknowledged running a deceptive, if not totally fake, vaccination program in Pakistan as part of the effort months ago to hunt down Osama bin Laden, here are three reasons why this episode is prompting an angry response by those who work against global poverty and disease:

  1. This isn’t just about vaccines — about fighting terrorism vs fighting polio.
  2. Health workers and aid workers overseas have to be seen as neutral and independent if they are to operate effectively and safely.
  3. National security isn’t achieved just by hunting and killing bad guys. It’s also achieved through humanitarian efforts, aid efforts and other forms of international collaboration based on mutual trust.

So let’s review where we are so far with the strange case of “The Immunizer of Abbottabad.”

After The Guardian on Monday first revealed this bizarre scheme aimed at collecting DNA from bin Laden family members, the CIA apparently has confirmed to the Washington Post that it did set up the vaccination program in northern Pakistan. Here’s what some anonymous official reportedly told the newspaper:

A senior U.S. official said the vaccine campaign was conducted by medical professionals and should not be construed as a “fake public health effort.”

“People need to put this into some perspective,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. “The vaccination campaign was part of the hunt for the world’s top terrorist, and nothing else.”

“If the United States hadn’t shown this kind of creativity, people would be scratching their heads asking why it hadn’t used all tools at its disposal to find bin Laden.”

Actually, many seem to be scratching their heads asking how the Central Intelligence Agency (given its middle name) came up with such a far-fetched scheme — it doesn’t appear to have worked — and how it can argue with a straight face that this was, in addition to a covert op, a legitimate vaccination program.

To begin with, just giving kids a real Hepatitis B vaccine doesn’t mean it’s not fake public health. Continue reading

What makes people care about global health, development? | 

If you pay much attention to all the political talk going on right now around foreign aid and development (and you should), you might have noticed a trend.

The trend is for political leaders to talk about providing foreign aid, health assistance and poverty mitigation because of its value to us — improving our national security, providing a more vibrant global economy to sell our goods in and the like.

Two of my most favorite writers, and thinkers, on global health and development have recently argued that this is a mistaken conceit. Even if it is a well-intended strategy (supporting efforts to help poor people by dressing them up as selfishness), they say it is probably both too cynical and not effective. So Continue reading